Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Serious Problem of Saltwater in the Subway System

WSJ reports:
The subway system is "in jeopardy," MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said Monday. "Our subway system and salt water do not mix."

Salt can eat at motors, metal fasteners and the electronic parts, some many decades old, that keep the system running. Salt water, and the deposits it leaves behind, degrades the relays that run the signal system, preventing train collisions. Salt water also conducts electricity, which can exacerbate damage to signals if the system isn't powered down before a flood.

The MTA closed down its entire regional network of rails and buses on Sunday evening and expected it will remain dark at least until Wednesday morning.

Agency officials couldn't say how quickly the subway could be brought back into operation, but Mr. Lhota said in an interview that the flooding above ground appeared "serious."

The speed of recovery would depend on how badly floodwaters damaged the 14 subway tunnels under the Harlem and East Rivers, where the system is most exposed to catastrophic flooding.
Klaus Jacob, a research scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, wrote in a report last year that it could take as long as 29 days to pump out a full inundation of the tunnels.

The system already copes with a tremendous amount of groundwater and runoff, especially at stations at the tip of Manhattan, where the water table has risen in recent years. Even on a dry day, the MTA's 300 pumping rooms remove an estimated 13 million gallons of water from the tunnel network, just to keep the system dry enough to run.

Pumping water out of flooded tunnels would take anywhere from 14 hours to four days, MTA officials said.

And that task would be followed by even more painstaking work—evaluating damage, then cleaning and repairing or replacing the electronic signal arrays that line every inch of the subway tracks, and which are essential to running the system's trains.

"You can't order a part from Westinghouse or General Electric GE -0.71% that is 100 years old," Mr. Jacob said. MTA workers will have to clean and test flooded equipment, "then you cross your fingers and hope that it works," he said.

It was a long time ago, but the subways were once private. If they had stayed private they wouldn't be in the poor shape they are in today. Mayor after mayor failed to spend the money that a private firm would have spent to keep the subway in tip top shape, now it is a rat infested mess. Think about that New Yorkers when you have to walk three hours to work while the City tries to find replacement parts for 100 year old equipment.


  1. I know this isn't alien-related but this sounds like the stimulus to the economy people like Krugman have been praying for.

  2. another broken window fallacy.

  3. Yes, because when I think "private industry operating a natural monopoly", I think "strong track record of operating for sustainability".

    1. There is no such thing as a "natural monopoly," only a government granted monopoly.

      "The Myth of Natural Monopoly"

      Your argument ignores the substitution effect:

      "Fear of Monopoly"

    2. Dan, what the heck is the government if not a monopoly? And what happened to all those taxes it collected to maintain its system? Why is the system is such poor shape given all the money the government has collected over the years to maintain it? Why do rational people always ignore government self interest when its happening right before their eyes? My guess is that the money they collected before the system started falling apart went to line the pockets of government workers and other special interest groups, many of which have zilch to do with public transportation.

      I also have to laugh at people that put so much faith in regulation to keep businesses fair, and yet they are totally willing to trust the biggest and most deadliest unregulated entity in our society (the government) to run things that are important to us?

    3. I'll take the private monopoly maintained with customer satisfaction over the so-called "public" one maintained with the barrel of a gun any day...

  4. And if they had something like elevated maglev PRT, there wouldn't have been subways to flood or roads...

    Transportation under gov monopoly has been stagnant for over 100 years. There's substantially no improvement in transport infrastructure today than when the first traffic signal was strung up in the 1800's.

  5. @ Dan, there is no such thing as a "natural" monopoly outside a college textbook.

  6. Well, at least above ground transportation can make up the difference. While the government may have neglected the subways, it's not like they imposed an artificial limit on the number of operating taxis through a licensing monopoly. Oh, wait...

  7. The government-run power monopoly on long island is even worse than they were in 1985


  8. This is the most awesomest time to raise taxes EVER!!!!! What New Yorker in their right mind could deny that they should pay more to the government now???

    Thank God Bloomberg banned sugary sodas so the good New York sheep will have the extra money!